Power supply shortages are nothing new, and regularly occur following extreme weather incidents affecting infrastructure, unexpected increases in power demand such as demand for air conditioning on a very hot summers day and failure of generators, transformers etc.
As a result of a lack of power supply following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, consumers supplied by Tohoku Electric have been asked to voluntarily reduce their electricity consumption. Businesses are shifting work schedules to earlier in the day and at weekends and turning auxiliary energy use off (such as unnecessary lighting and air conditions at 6 pm). Some of these actions, especially the work pattern shifts, are not sustainable in the long run.
Weather events such as storms and extreme temperatures have caused power cuts. For 3 days in February 2011 a severe cold snap resulted in rolling blackouts affecting 4.4 million customers in the Southwest of the US. Both electric and gas shortages were reported, which could have been prevented by the weatherisation of power plants and increase in gas storage capacity. It is also worth noting that weather events affect fuel production. A weather event can affect all parts of the energy supply chain; for example, oil platforms and refineries were closed of the Gulf of Mexico coast following Hurricane Katrina.
Another issue is that plans to expand nuclear power capacity or extend the lifetime of existing capacity in some countries is now on hold following the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. Within Japan the country’s Premier has announced plans to phase out nuclear power all together. A very ambitious plan as nuclear accounts for 30% of the country’s generating capacity, and not too long ago there were plans for nuclear to account for half of capacity. Since the accident the country has been relying on crude and diesel to meet demand, along with behavioural changes and planned rolling blackouts.